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Taking Risks Behind the Veil of Ignorance

Ethics 127 (3):610-644 (2017)

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  1. Measuring Belief and Risk Attitude.Sven Neth - 2019 - Electronic Proceedings in Theoretical Computer Science 297:354–364.
    Ramsey (1926) sketches a proposal for measuring the subjective probabilities of an agent by their observable preferences, assuming that the agent is an expected utility maximizer. I show how to extend the spirit of Ramsey's method to a strictly wider class of agents: risk-weighted expected utility maximizers (Buchak 2013). In particular, I show how we can measure the risk attitudes of an agent by their observable preferences, assuming that the agent is a risk-weighted expected utility maximizer. Further, we can leverage (...)
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  • Original position.Samuel Freeman - 2012 - In Peter Adamson (ed.), Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
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  • The procreative asymmetry and the impossibility of elusive permission.Jack Spencer - 2021 - Philosophical Studies 178 (11):3819-3842.
    This paper develops a form of moral actualism that can explain the procreative asymmetry. Along the way, it defends and explains the attractive asymmetry: the claim that although an impermissible option can be self-conditionally permissible, a permissible option cannot be self-conditionally impermissible.
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  • Risk, Non-Identity, and Extinction.Kacper Kowalczyk & Nikhil Venkatesh - 2024 - The Monist 107 (2):146–156.
    This paper examines a recent argument in favour of strong precautionary action—possibly including working to hasten human extinction—on the basis of a decision-theoretic view that accommodates the risk-attitudes of all affected while giving more weight to the more risk-averse attitudes. First, we dispute the need to take into account other people’s attitudes towards risk at all. Second we argue that a version of the non-identity problem undermines the case for doing so in the context of future people. Lastly, we suggest (...)
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  • Should longtermists recommend hastening extinction rather than delaying it?Richard Pettigrew - 2024 - The Monist 107 (2):130-145.
    Longtermism is the view that the most urgent global priorities, and those to which we should devote the largest portion of our resources, are those that focus on (i) ensuring a long future for humanity, and perhaps sentient or intelligent life more generally, and (ii) improving the quality of the lives that inhabit that long future. While it is by no means the only one, the argument most commonly given for this conclusion is that these interventions have greater expected goodness (...)
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  • Reverse-Engineering Risk.Angela O’Sullivan & Lilith Mace - forthcoming - Erkenntnis:1-26.
    Three philosophical accounts of risk dominate the contemporary literature. On the probabilistic account, risk has to do with the probability of a disvaluable event obtaining; on the modal account, it has to do with the modal closeness of that event obtaining; on the normic account, it has to do with the normalcy of that event obtaining. The debate between these accounts has proceeded via counterexample-trading, with each account having some cases it explains better than others, and some cases that it (...)
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  • Taking Risks on Behalf of Another.Johanna Thoma - 2023 - Philosophy Compass 18 (3):e12898.
    A growing number of decision theorists have, in recent years, defended the view that rationality is permissive under risk: Different rational agents may be more or less risk-averse or risk-inclined. This can result in them making different choices under risk even if they value outcomes in exactly the same way. One pressing question that arises once we grant such permissiveness is what attitude to risk we should implement when choosing on behalf of other people. Are we permitted to implement any (...)
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  • Uncertainty, equality, fraternity.Rush T. Stewart - 2021 - Synthese 199 (3-4):9603-9619.
    Epistemic states of uncertainty play important roles in ethical and political theorizing. Theories that appeal to a “veil of ignorance,” for example, analyze fairness or impartiality in terms of certain states of ignorance. It is important, then, to scrutinize proposed conceptions of ignorance and explore promising alternatives in such contexts. Here, I study Lerner’s probabilistic egalitarian theorem in the setting of imprecise probabilities. Lerner’s theorem assumes that a social planner tasked with distributing income to individuals in a population is “completely (...)
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  • Ambiguity Aversion behind the Veil of Ignorance.H. Orri Stefánsson - 2021 - Synthese 198 (7):6159-6182.
    The veil of ignorance argument was used by John C. Harsanyi to defend Utilitarianism and by John Rawls to defend the absolute priority of the worst off. In a recent paper, Lara Buchak revives the veil of ignorance argument, and uses it to defend an intermediate position between Harsanyi's and Rawls' that she calls Relative Prioritarianism. None of these authors explore the implications of allowing that agent's behind the veil are averse to ambiguity. Allowing for aversion to ambiguity---which is both (...)
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  • Contractualism and risk preferences.Tobey K. Scharding - 2021 - Economics and Philosophy 37 (2):260-283.
    I evaluate two contractualist approaches to the ethics of risk: mutual constraint and the probabilistic, ex ante approach. After explaining how these approaches address problems in earlier interpretations of contractualism, I object that they fail to respond to diverse risk preferences in populations. Some people could reasonably reject the risk thresholds associated with these approaches. A strategy for addressing this objection is considering individual risk preferences, similar to those Buchak discusses concerning expected-utility approaches to risk. I defend the risk-preferences-adjusted contractualist (...)
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  • Automation, unemployment, and insurance.Tom Parr - 2022 - Ethics and Information Technology 24 (3):1-11.
    How should policymakers respond to the risk of technological unemployment that automation brings? First, I develop a procedure for answering this question that consults, rather than usurps, individuals’ own attitudes and ambitions towards that risk. I call this the insurance argument. A distinctive virtue of this view is that it dispenses with the need to appeal to a class of controversial reasons about the value of employment, and so is consistent with the demands of liberal political morality. Second, I appeal (...)
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  • Weighing and aggregating reasons under uncertainty: a trilemma.Ittay Nissan-Rozen - 2020 - Philosophical Studies 178 (9):2853-2871.
    I discuss the trilemma that consists of the following three principles being inconsistent: 1. The Common Principle: if one distribution, A, necessarily brings a higher total sum of personal value that is distributed in a more egalitarian way than another distribution, B, A is more valuable than B. 2. (Weak) ex-ante Pareto: if one uncertain distribution, A, is more valuable than another uncertain distribution, B, for each patient, A is more valuable than B. 3. Pluralism about attitudes to risk (Pluralism): (...)
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  • Rank-Weighted Utilitarianism and the Veil of Ignorance.Jacob M. Nebel - 2020 - Ethics 131 (1):87-106.
    Lara Buchak argues for a version of rank-weighted utilitarianism that assigns greater weight to the interests of the worse off. She argues that our distributive principles should be derived from the preferences of rational individuals behind a veil of ignorance, who ought to be risk averse. I argue that Buchak’s appeal to the veil of ignorance leads to a particular way of extending rank-weighted utilitarianism to the evaluation of uncertain prospects. This method recommends choices that violate the unanimous preferences of (...)
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  • Calibration dilemmas in the ethics of distribution.Jacob M. Nebel & H. Orri Stefánsson - 2023 - Economics and Philosophy 39 (1):67-98.
    This paper presents a new kind of problem in the ethics of distribution. The problem takes the form of several “calibration dilemmas,” in which intuitively reasonable aversion to small-stakes inequalities requires leading theories of distribution to recommend intuitively unreasonable aversion to large-stakes inequalities. We first lay out a series of such dilemmas for prioritarian theories. We then consider a widely endorsed family of egalitarian views and show that they are subject to even more forceful calibration dilemmas than prioritarian theories. Finally, (...)
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  • Respect for others' risk attitudes and the long‐run future.Andreas L. Mogensen - forthcoming - Noûs.
    When our choice affects some other person and the outcome is unknown, it has been argued that we should defer to their risk attitude, if known, or else default to use of a risk‐avoidant risk function. This, in turn, has been claimed to require the use of a risk‐avoidant risk function when making decisions that primarily affect future people, and to decrease the desirability of efforts to prevent human extinction, owing to the significant risks associated with continued human survival. I (...)
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  • Patients, doctors and risk attitudes.Nicholas Makins - 2023 - Journal of Medical Ethics 49 (11):737-741.
    A lively topic of debate in decision theory over recent years concerns our understanding of the different risk attitudes exhibited by decision makers. There is ample evidence that risk-averse and risk-seeking behaviours are widespread, and a growing consensus that such behaviour is rationally permissible. In the context of clinical medicine, this matter is complicated by the fact that healthcare professionals must often make choices for the benefit of their patients, but the norms of rational choice are conventionally grounded in a (...)
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  • Defending deference: author’s response to commentaries.Nicholas Makins - 2023 - Journal of Medical Ethics 49 (11):763-764.
    In my feature article in this issue, ‘Doctors, patients and risk attitudes’, I argue that considerations of both autonomy and beneficence support the practice of healthcare professionals deferring to their patients’ reflectively endorsed risk attitudes when making decisions under uncertainty.1 The commentaries written in response to this article present many interesting criticisms, limitations and applications of the view, and I am grateful to all of the commentators for their engagement with this topic. I cannot possibly do justice to all of (...)
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  • In defence of Pigou-Dalton for chances.Stefánsson H. Orri - 2023 - Utilitas 35 (4):292-311.
    I defend a weak version of the Pigou-Dalton principle for chances. The principle says that it is better to increase the survival chance of a person who is more likely to die rather than a person who is less likely to die, assuming that the two people do not differ in any other morally relevant respect. The principle justifies plausible moral judgements that standard ex post views, such as prioritarianism and rank-dependent egalitarianism, cannot accommodate. However, the principle can be justified (...)
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  • Should We Wish Well to All?Caspar Hare - 2016 - Philosophical Review 125 (4):451-472.
    Some moral theories tell you, in some situations in which you are interacting with a group of people, to avoid acting in the way that is expectedly best for everybody. This essay argues that such theories are mistaken. Go ahead and do what is expectedly best for everybody. The argument is based on the thought that when interacting with an individual it is fine for you to act in the expected interests of the individual and that many interactions with individuals (...)
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  • Philosophical conversations.Sven Ove Hansson - 2022 - Theoria 88 (5):883-886.
    Theoria, Volume 88, Issue 5, Page 883-886, October 2022.
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  • Please Wear a Mask: A Systematic Case for Mask Wearing Mandates.Roberto Fumagalli - forthcoming - Journal of Medical Ethics.
    This paper combines considerations from ethics, medicine and public health policy to articulate and defend a systematic case for mask wearing mandates. The paper argues for two main claims of general interest in favour of these mandates. First, mask wearing mandates provide a more effective, just and fair way to tackle the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic than policy alternatives such as laissez-faire approaches, mask wearing recommendations and physical distancing measures. And second, the proffered objections against mask wearing mandates may justify some (...)
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  • Why It Is Not Unreasonable to Fear Terrorism.Eran Fish - forthcoming - Journal of Applied Philosophy.
    A common view has it that since we are far likelier to be killed in some road or household accident than in a terror attack, our fear of the latter is exaggerated. I argue that terrorism's relatively limited death toll need not mean that fearing it is unreasonable, nor does it immediately imply that counter‐terrorism policies are unjustified – whatever other, legitimate concerns these policies give rise to. First, I argue that in the special case of terrorism, it is misleading (...)
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  • The Equivalence of Egalitarianism and Prioritarianism.Karin Enflo - 2022 - Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy 22 (1).
    In this essay I argue that even though egalitarianism and prioritarianism are different theories of social welfare, they can use the same social welfare measures. I present six different arguments for this thesis. The first argument is that conceptual connections between egalitarianism and prioritarianism ensure that any measure that works for either theory works for both. The second argument is that conditions necessary and sufficient to identify egalitarian and prioritarian measures, respectively, are equivalent. The third argument is that both egalitarianism (...)
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  • Original position arguments and social choice under ignorance.Thijs De Coninck & Frederik Van De Putte - 2022 - Theory and Decision 94 (2):275-298.
    John Rawls famously argued that the Difference Principle would be chosen by any rational agent in the original position. Derek Parfit and Philippe Van Parijs have claimed, contra Rawls, that it is not the Difference Principle which is implied by Rawls’ original position argument, but rather the more refined Lexical Difference Principle. In this paper, we study both principles in the context of social choice under ignorance. First, we present a general format for evaluating original position arguments in this context. (...)
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  • Risk Attitudes and Justifiability to Each.Pietro Cibinel - 2022 - Ethics 133 (1):106-121.
    How should we choose on behalf of people with different attitudes to risk? Simon Blessenohl has recently argued that this question poses a dilemma: it seems that sometimes we must choose either acts that everyone disprefers or else acts that are sure to turn out worse than some other act. In this article, I offer a complaints-centered account of how to take people’s attitudes to risk into consideration in our decision-making, and then I show that it provides a way out (...)
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  • When utilitarianism dominates justice as fairness: an economic defence of utilitarianism from the original position.Hun Chung - 2023 - Economics and Philosophy 39 (2):308-333.
    The original position together with the veil of ignorance have served as one of the main methodological devices to justify principles of distributive justice. Most approaches to this topic have primarily focused on the single person decision-theoretic aspect of the original position. This paper, in contrast, will directly model the basic structure and the economic agents therein to project the economic consequences and social outcomes generated either by utilitarianism or Rawls’s two principles of justice. It will be shown that when (...)
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  • Prospect Utilitarianism and the Original Position.hun CHung - 2023 - Journal of the American Philosophical Association 9 (4):670-704.
    Suppose we assume that the parties in the original position took Kahneman and Tversky's prospect theory as constituting their general knowledge of human psychology that survives through the veil of ignorance. How would this change the choice situation of the original position? In this paper, I present what I call ‘prospect utilitarianism’. Prospect utilitarianism combines the utilitarian social welfare function with individual utility functions characterized by Kahneman and Tversky's prospect theory. I will argue that, once prospect utilitarianism is on the (...)
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  • Weighing the Risks of Climate Change.Lara Buchak - 2019 - The Monist 102 (1):66-83.
    This essay argues that when setting climate policy, we should place more weight on worse possible consequences of a policy, while still placing some weight on better possible consequences. The argument proceeds by elucidating the range of attitudes people can take towards risk, how we must make choices for people when we don’t know their risk-attitudes, and the situation we are in with respect to climate policy and the consequences for future people. The result is an alternative to the Precautionary (...)
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  • Philosophical foundations for worst-case arguments.Lara Buchak - 2023 - Politics, Philosophy and Economics 22 (3):215-242.
    Certain ethical views hold that we should pay more attention, even exclusive attention, to the worst-case scenario. Prominent examples include Rawls's Difference Principle and the Precautionary Principle. These views can be anchored in formal principles of decision theory, in two different ways. On the one hand, they can rely on ambiguity-aversion: the idea that we cannot assign sharp probabilities to various scenarios, and that if we cannot assign sharp probabilities, we should decide pessimistically, as if the probabilities are unfavorable. On (...)
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  • How Should Risk and Ambiguity Affect Our Charitable Giving?Lara Buchak - 2023 - Utilitas 35 (3):175-197.
    Suppose we want to do the most good we can with a particular sum of money, but we cannot be certain of the consequences of different ways of making use of it. This article explores how our attitudes towards risk and ambiguity bear on what we should do. It shows that risk-avoidance and ambiguity-aversion can each provide good reason to divide our money between various charitable organizations rather than to give it all to the most promising one. It also shows (...)
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  • Impartial Evaluation under Ambiguity.Richard Bradley - 2022 - Ethics 132 (3):541-569.
    How should an impartial social observer judge distributions of well-being across different individuals when there is uncertainty regarding the state of the world? I explore this question by imposing very weak conditions of rationality and benevolent sympathy on impartial betterness judgments under uncertainty. Although weak enough to be consistent with all the main theories of rationality, these conditions prove to be sufficient to rule out any heterogeneity in what is good for individuals, to require a neutral attitude to uncertainty on (...)
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  • Fairness and risk attitudes.Richard Bradley & Stefánsson H. Orri - 2023 - Philosophical Studies 180 (10-11):3179-3204.
    According to a common judgement, a social planner should often use a lottery to decide which of two people should receive a good. This judgement undermines one of the best-known arguments for utilitarianism, due to John C. Harsanyi, and more generally undermines axiomatic arguments for utilitarianism and similar views. In this paper we ask which combinations of views about (a) the social planner’s attitude to risk and inequality, and (b) the subjects’ attitudes to risk are consistent with the aforementioned judgement. (...)
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  • Rational risk‐aversion: Good things come to those who weight.Christopher Bottomley & Timothy Luke Williamson - forthcoming - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research.
    No existing normative decision theory adequately handles risk. Expected Utility Theory is overly restrictive in prohibiting a range of reasonable preferences. And theories designed to accommodate such preferences (for example, Buchak's (2013) Risk‐Weighted Expected Utility Theory) violate the Betweenness axiom, which requires that you are indifferent to randomizing over two options between which you are already indifferent. Betweenness has been overlooked by philosophers, and we argue that it is a compelling normative constraint. Furthermore, neither Expected nor Risk‐Weighted Expected Utility Theory (...)
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  • Risk Attitudes and Social Choice.Simon Blessenohl - 2020 - Ethics 130 (4):485-513.
    How should we choose on behalf of groups of agents who violate expected utility theory by being risk averse or risk seeking? Unfortunately, we sometimes have to choose either acts that everyone disprefers or acts that are sure to turn out worse than another act. This observation is particularly troubling for risk-expected utility theorists: neither option sits comfortably with their view.
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  • Prioritarianism, Timeslices, and Prudential Value.Vuko Andrić & Anders Herlitz - 2022 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 100 (3):595-604.
    This paper shows that versions of prioritarianism that focus at least partially on well-being levels at certain times conflict with conventional views of prudential value and prudential rationality. So-called timeslice prioritarianism, and pluralist views that ascribe importance to timeslices, hold that a benefit matters more, the worse off the beneficiary is at the time of receiving it. We show that views that evaluate outcomes in accordance with this idea entail that an agent who delays gratification makes an outcome worse, even (...)
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  • Prioritarianism: A response to critics.Matthew D. Adler & Nils Holtug - 2019 - Politics, Philosophy and Economics 18 (2):101-144.
    Prioritarianism is a moral view that ranks outcomes according to the sum of a strictly increasing and strictly concave transformation of individual well-being. Prioritarianism is ‘welfarist’ (namel...
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  • Utilitarianism and the Social Nature of Persons.Nikhil Venkatesh - 2023 - Dissertation, University College London
    This thesis defends utilitarianism: the view that as far as morality goes, one ought to choose the option which will result in the most overall well-being. Utilitarianism is widely rejected by philosophers today, largely because of a number of influential objections. In this thesis I deal with three of them. Each is found in Bernard Williams’s ‘A Critique of Utilitarianism’ (1973). The first is the Integrity Objection, an intervention that has been influential whilst being subject to a wide variety of (...)
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  • Original position.Fred D'Agostino - forthcoming - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
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  • The Ethics of Making Risky Decisions for Others.Luc Bovens - 2019 - In Mark D. White (ed.), Oxford Handbook of Ethics and Economics. Oxford University Press. pp. 446-473.
    Utilitarianism, it has been said, is not sensitive to the distribution of welfare. In making risky decisions for others there are multiple sensitivities at work. I present examples of risky decision-making involving drug allocations, charitable giving, breast-cancer screening and C-sections. In each of these examples there is a different sensitivity at work that pulls away from the utilitarian prescription. Instances of saving fewer people at a greater risk to many is more complex because there are two distributional sensitivities at work (...)
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